Wednesday, May 19, 2010

That Vegan Cashew-Cheese Frosting Experiment. And On Diet.

I did take that leftover cup of cashew "ricotta cheese" from yesterday's adventure and tried to turn it into delicious vegan frosting. I felt that I succeeded, but then I really did want it to taste just a bit like butter. I didn't add any mind you, but here is what I did:

I was obviously in an Aleppo pepper kind of mood...

First, I made some vegan chocolate cupcakes. Then, with my immersion blender, I took 1 cup of leftover cultured cashew cheese from Tal Ronnen's recipe and blended it to near perfect smoothness. It took me a few minutes. He does include recipes in his book for actual Cashew Cream and Whipped Cashew Cream, but I figured that I didn't want to waste (or end up eating entirely myself) a rather large amount of cashew cheese and besides we all know that I'm always up for tinkering around in my kitchen. Had I started with one of these, I would have had a smoother product from the beginning, and certain success.

After smoothness was obtained, I began to think about sweetener. I do have some agave syrup that I needed to use up (and do not and will not purchase it again after reading so much on it's huge amount of over processing. A quick search gave me this article - as it pertains particularly to vegan eating - that sums up quite a bit of what I've been reading elsewhere...), so I added maybe a tablespoon or two and tasted. It was a bland and awful taste, quickly corrected by about a 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar. Now I was getting somewhere! A heavy pinch of salt, a pinch more brown sugar - and still immersion blending... It was beautiful, thick, and creamy, but frosting-like it just was not.

I added 1/2 cup of Spectrum Organic Shortening and switched to a hand mixer, and then, I decided that the flavor was just too strange, so I added the last of my cocoa powder, maybe a 1/4 cup. Now I was REALLY getting somewhere. It finally had a bit of character, and the cocoa masked any strangeness that I was getting before. Cocoa powder works hand in hand with espresso powder in my kitchen, so I sprinkled some of that in as well. My final decision was that I am indeed a sugar addict, and yes I know it is something I need to work on (and I am!), and I added more sugar, this time I used confectioner's sugar. I figured the cornstarch in it would act as a bit of a thickener. I called it finished, and filled a piping bag to give it the proper test:

It still looks a bit granular, but really, it was very creamy and mousse-like. If you are looking for a way to use up leftover cashew cheese, I'd recommend tinkering with it. I let the Boy-O eat one for dessert, and he had no qualms, proof that perhaps I was over thinking (and over tasting) the entire project.

Vegan Cupcakes with Chocolate Cashew "Ricotta Cheese" Frosting? Pretty edible and tasty for a vegan cupcake... but I'm not suggesting that you rush out and make them instead of the real deal. Unless, of course, you are vegan - then I would say do it now!

I'm trying to identify what it is about vegan and non-vegan foods that appeals to the practitioners of each style. Vegan foods seem so noble and clean, minimal and beautiful. Conventional "American" diets seems by comparison seem fat-laden and heavy with both wheat and sugar, which I know they really are. While vegan cookery is very appealing to me, strange vegan dessert preparations that feel like they are just lacking something in my mouth do not. I know there is someone that can prove me wrong, and I'm sure I'll try many more things and let you know if I manage to prove it to myself.

This obsession of vegan foodstuffs is really causing me to stop and think if nothing else, about all of the flaws in my own diet. My copy of Sproutman's Kitchen Garden came this afternoon, and it would be worth noting this paragraph which is sticking out in my brain (I was actually one paragraph, I just split it up for emphasis):
The "Standard American Diet" suits its acronym, S.A.D. It is synonymous with unhealthy eating habits and lifestyle. It is founded on what looks, smells, and tastes good... ...We are most concerned with its presentation and convenient availability. We freeze it, can it, preserve it, artificially flavor it, color it and otherwise separate it into parts and reassemble it in different ways to pique our interest and pry open our pocket books. Advances in technology serve mostly to improve production and distribution. We have largely ignored the multitude of ways that food influences our health. America's most popular foods are steak, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, poultry, cold cuts and canned tuna. We are also dairy and refined wheat addicts. We consume excessive amounts of hard cheeses...

...We drink milk well beyond our ability to digest it and consume mountains of ice cream. In regard to wheat, we have taken an important grain and over indulged it. Our bodies respond to this excess with all kinds of alarms and signals: chest coughing, nose blowing, sinus dripping, palate itching, skin breaking out and pimpling. What does it take to get our attention?...

... Breads, cookies, crackers, cakes, pretzels, pastries, bagels and pizza are not poison. But their ubiquitous presence and the daily intake of such low quality wheat products takes its toll. Bread companies proclaim the virtues of their brand by the number of synthetic nutrients they add. What irony that we remove natural vitamins and then seek praise for replacing them with synthetic substitutes. Breakfast cereals also make the same claim. America literally wakes up and launches the day with a cup of coffee and a bowlful of sugar and refined flour in designer shapes. Then, at dinnertime we pat ourselves on the back for eating a meatless meal in which we again consume refined flour, this time in curls, squiggles and pillows with excess salt instead of sugar. It never dawns on us that pasta, pizza, pretzels, crackers, cookies, breads and cereals are different forms of the same food.
Sproutman (a.k.a. Steve Meyerowitz) wrote this book in 1983! Yes, I know that he has a broad and generalizing view and not everyone in America eats this way, but I know I am guilty of eating more sugar than I know is good for me. Part of it is because I love baking, but part is because it is an addiction. Sproutman goes on to say that the typical American diet consists of 42% fat, 12% protein, and 46% is made up of carbohydrates - of which more than half comes from sugar! Wow. Serious thinking needs to be done.

I know this seems like a huge soapbox for me to be up on, but really it is a funny topic to me. It would be easy for me to seem piously against all of these things, but sometimes, I do just want to walk into a joint like Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh and chow down and not worry and wonder about the detriment of my diet and how it is affecting both myself and others. I want to be connected to the American food culture that varies from state to state. I want a hamburger, and I want it without having to think about factory farming. I am reminded of this scene in Barcelona (which I haven't seen in like 10 years, and due to the miracle that is the Internet, I can find the scene and insert it here!):
Take hamburgers.
Here, hamburguesas are really bad.

It's known that Americans like hamburgers,
so again, we're idiots.

But they have no idea
how delicious hamburgers can be.

It's this ideal burger of memory we crave...

...not the disgusting burgers
you get abroad.

We can't even call ourselves Americans.
I guess where I'd have to go with this, since a wrap-up should be in sight, is that I really do need to go sit in a corner and chant my Mantra. To "do the best I can and trust God with the rest", as my Gram always said. She also once told a doctor who asked what was the secret to her good health: "I don't drink or smoke, and eat all the ice cream I can hold". That was the quote I liked most when I was younger, and I guess I still do. In fact, I whipped up another ice cream base this evening, just before all of this vegan talk... To add to my moderation, I suppose it is best that I am eating ice cream I make myself. Zero preservatives, and with organic milk, fairly low in chemical pesticides, and truth be told, I cut the sugar in half. I'll let you know how THAT worked out for me. I sure didn't cut back in this frosting.


  1. Rebecca, your timing (and your experimenting) are perfect - I'm obliged to make a vegan birthday cake for my daughter on Saturday and you're setting me up to do it right. Thank you!

  2. Mary Catherine, I'd definitely go with a Spectrum Organic shortening or Earth Balance type frosting...I'd hate for you to experiment with the cheese and be disappointed! It is a birthday, after all! Good luck!

  3. First of all, I love how you can casually say: "If you are looking for a way to use up leftover cashew cheese..." :)

    Secondly, I'd like to contribute one recent thought, in particular, pertaining to the discussion of diets/healthy eating.

    I think it's vitally important, in any discussion on nutrition, to remember that nutrition is an extraordinarily individual matter. Different bodies react to substances in highly variable ways -- so there really is no "one size fits all" diet. What we've lost track of in the U.S. is the ability to sit back, block out the noise, and listen to what our bodies are telling us. And we need to get back to that. Fat, wheat, meat... none of these things are INNATELY bad. It's the excess, the processing, and our lack of consciousness when eating that brings imbalance.

  4. Amen, Lo! You can be my voice of reason when I get too obsessive :). I do think it's so true that individual needs are different, but when I read biased materials, it's easy to lose sight of that!

  5. Hi Rebecca, Your cupcakes look so amazing. I love how you frosted them. I can't believe you made a vegan "buttercream" as I always feel like the dairy is a big part of the buttercream. I am impressed with your recent endeavors to eat vegan and reading your posts about them are really fun too!


Communication is a good thing, most of the time...